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Images and Art

Can I use that image?

 Remember: copyright automatically attaches to any work the moment it is created. 

Are you reproducing an image to use only in the classroom or as reference material? 

You can use most images. Check the Fair Use guide and remember to cite your images properly.

 Learn more about citing images.

Are you using an image to make your own published work more attractive?

You will probably need an image which is either copyright free or published under a Creative Commons License. 

 Learn more about finding copyright free images.

 Learn more about Creative Commons Licenses here.

Remember to always give appropriate credit for the images you use.

Copyright Basics

Copyright attaches the moment a work is created. There is no need to file special paperwork or use the  symbol. Therefore you need to assume that a work is copyrighted unless otherwise stated.

Copyright protects:

  • book chapters,
  • journal and newspaper articles, documents
  • internet material such as YouTube videos, images, podcasts, webpages 
  • films, DVDs, TV broadcasts 
  • photos, diagrams, graphs 
  • music, radio broadcasts 
  • paintings, sculpture, pottery 
  • research data (normally)
  • computer programs 

Copyright means that ONLY the owner of the work can:

  • reproduce copies of the work
  • display the work publicly
  • create derivatives of the work
  • distribute copies of the work to the public for sale


But there are exceptions...

Exceptions to Copyright Restrictions

Copyright does NOT apply to: 

Works in the PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Some works are published in a public domain repository. These are exempt from copyright rules. 
  • All works usually enter the public domain 70 years after the author's death or in the year of publication in the instance that there is no author.

(However, unless it is listed as in the Public Domain it is still important to do further investigation as sometimes extensions apply and different countries actually apply different rules. You will need to check the rules of the country of origin of the work to be sure.)


  • Stock image services usually require you to pay for a license to use the image.

(You can usually tell if this is the case as the image will have some sort of watermark on it. The watermark is an indication that you need to pay for the image in order to be able to use it.)


Works listed under a CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE 
  • There are a number of creators who now choose to publish their works under a creative commons license. This allows you to use a copyrighted work as long as you adhere to the specific license requirements.

(Creative Commons Licenses have been developed because of the complicated nature of copyright. Find out more). 

Fair Use Guide

Some countries have a 'fair use' or 'fair dealing' policy which allows the use of copyrighted works in certain circumstances.

These circumstances include:

  • research or study;
  • criticism or review;
  • parody or satire;
  • reporting news; or
  • professional advice by a lawyer, patent attorney or trademarks attorney. 

The US has a "fair use' policy which includes a four factor test to help you decide if you are using the copyrighted work appropriately.

The four factors test includes:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.
Some questions you need to ask yourself before using a copyrighted image.


  1. Do you understand the term fair use? Just because you provide attribution and/or a link back to the original doesn’t mean you’re free and clear. Fair use has nothing to do with attribution. Providing attribution or a link to the original doesn't automatically allow you to use the image. That’s an issue related to plagiarism, which is different from copyright. If your use is covered by fair use, you don’t have to provide attribution anyway (although it would be nice).
  2. Why are you using the image? If it is for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, you may be allowed to use the image.
  3. How much of the image are you using? If you are using a thumbnail with a link to the original or if you only use a portion of the image then you are more likely to have a case for fair use. 

If you are using the image to make your own work attractive, then you need to have permission to use the image.

Copyright vs. Academic Honesty

Remember: Fair use is not the same as attribution

Even though you may be allowed to use an image, you must still cite the image accurately to avoid plagiarism.




Librarians are not lawyers. The advice in this guide is just that; a guide to help you to think carefully about the images you use.

For more information check the sources:

Cult of Pedagogy, (2019) Teaching students to legally use images online.

Ohio Wesleyan University, (2018) Images.

Social Media Examiner, (2019) Copyright, fair use and how it works for online images.

Waters, S. & Burt, R., (2017) The educators guide to copyright, fair use, and creative commons.‚Äč